One of the most common behavior concerns in rescue dogs is leash reactivity.

Leash reactivity in the simplest sense, is an overreaction to stimuli in the environment, commonly people or other dogs.


Depending on the background of the rescue, socializing either with humans or dogs, can prove difficult. This is largely based on the history of the specific rescue dog and how they were treated or introduced to humans and dogs. It also depends on the breed of the dog and their personality. We typically buy dogs for companionship. We are lonely. We love to have Fido to come home to, cuddle with and force us to exercise. As humans, we need socializing and so does our pet. Cinnamon is not big on socializing. When my son lived at home and was active in his band, he had 6-7 teenage/young adult men coming to the basement in our house at least two times a week. AND IT WAS LOUD!!! Did I mention that my son is the drummer??? I don’t know if it was actually the men that were walking in the house or if she knew that anyone that went into the basement made a lot of noise, but she HATED them!!! They all tried their hardest to get them to like her. Nope. We have a strong dog gate in the door frame, right before the basement door and she stands there and jumps against the gate and barks and tries to nip them. I would love to tell you that we have broken her of that habit, but we haven’t. We continue to socialize her with walks and bringing family over and my daughter’s dogs. I have found that the more we expose cinnamon for longer periods ‘> of time the better she does. Meaning, she has to get used to them.

This is the exact dog gate we bought. Only it was in black.

How do we train a leash reactive rescue dog?

I did get a trainer for Cinnamon. It really helped both Cinnamon and myself. Helped is the word, cured all of our issues, no. It did give me some very valuable information to keep me constantly thinking and rearranging how I do things with her.

One of the things we were told is eye contact. When we are on a walk, make her get eye contact with me and reward her with a treat or praise. When she is going crazy and lunging after a dog, or is even anticipating a dog coming towards us, there is no way I can make eye contact with her. I’m hoping in the future, that will work.

One of the tricks that really work for us is to make a U-turn. Yep, just what it sounds like. We turn around and go the other way. It doesn’t mean that we can’t keep going in the direction that I intended. It just means that we have to make a U-turn and go in a different direction until the distraction or other person/dog is gone. This works when Cinnie and I are on a walk and another dog is crossing the street, but going over our path and into a different direction. It also helps if a dog is coming up on the other side of the street.

The very best thing that works for us is to give Cinnamon a lot of space. I really think that she would do the flight response if she could, but since we have leash laws in our area, she can’t. I do let her get as far away as she would like and that seems to help the most. We make a wide semi circle, going far into the grass, off of the sidewalk or trail, when we can.

The last thing I do, is I don’t make contact with the other dog walker and dog. I don’t want to engage in conversation, Cinnie and I just need to keep moving. If someone does stop and wants to make a comment on how pretty Cinnamon is or something and they tell me their dog won’t bite, I tell them that cinnamon is a frightened do and will bite. It’s honest and I need to do everything I can to keep Cinnamon, myself and others safe.

Safe walking requires the right tools

A simple collar around the neck simply won’t do for Cinnamon. She pulls so hard that she will choke herself and start spiting up and gagging. Some dogs, can actually cause damage to their esophagus. I use a harness. It gives me a lot more control over Cinnamon and the situation and it is much safer for her. I get one that is comfortable for her, easy to put on her and is ‘> washable!!

Socializing and leash reactivity can cause much stress

The best advice I can give through experience is to be pro-active. Chose a time to socialize your dog when he/she is at their best, when there isn’t food around and when you can control the situation. Have the right tools to be able to make it a safe situation. Go forth and be social!!

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